While the list of mistakes I made while writing my book is a long one, I can easily pick out the top nine. These are the mistakes that cost me the most in terms of time or money.
Mistake #1: Don’t take the time to learn the craft of writing.
Selling books is a tough business, and if you have an inferior product, you’ve just made it a lot tougher. Marketing experts will tell you that the best advertising for any product is word of mouth: one person telling another person about a product. If your book isn’t entertaining, controversial, informative or interesting, no one will be telling their friends to run out and buy it. Not all good books will sell, but it’s a lot easier to sell a good book than a bad one.
So how good of a writer are you?
We all know the basics of writing if we paid any attention at all when we were in school. But being able to pass sixth grade English class and writing a novel or non-fiction book that people will get excited about reading are two different things. Just because I can hammer a nail in straight doesn’t mean that you would want to live in any house I build.
Mistake #2: Don’t define your message before you start to write
Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction you need to know what you want to say before you start writing. Non-fiction writers have an easier job: they may want to inspire, teach how to do something, or educate. Even fiction writers whose primary goal is to entertain often have some kind of message.
In The Confession, for example, John Grisham clearly was making a case for his anti-death penalty stance. Pride and Prejudice teaches us, among other things, that first impressions are often wrong. Even fluffy chic-lit often has some message about being loyal to friends or standing by your man.
Once you know what you want to say, you also need to know who will be interested in this message. These are your readers, and no, this does not mean everyone on the planet. Figure out who is likely to want to read your work, whether it is teenagers, avid race walkers, or amateur investors and write specifically for them.
Mistake #3: Don’t start building your platform until you’ve published your book
What is a platform and why do you need one? For most people, a platform is something you stand on so that more people can see you. A writer’s platform is basically the credentials, body of work, and following you stand on that allow people to see you and become interested in your book. A politician or star athlete uses his or her fame as a platform. A well-known teacher or expert uses their expertise.
What if you are not famous? You need to start building a platform early. Later in this book I’ll explain ways you can do this. For right now all I will say is when I started writing, I had no idea I needed a platform, didn’t have one, and my sales reflected this.
Mistake #4: Start writing without first creating a structure, outline, or plot
I’m the kind of person who likes to dive right in and start writing. This is the hard way to write a book. I just jumped in and started writing. What happened next is predictable: I ended up writing and re-writing, changing the order and contents multiple times before I was done. Maybe all that rewriting made for a better end product, but it sure was the hard way.
The better—and easier—way is to outline your book and know roughly what every chapter is going to cover. Even authors of fiction have the story mapped out before they begin. The final product may have taken a completely different direction than they intended, but they start writing from a plan. For non-fiction, having the structure established from the beginning will help speed up writing.
Check back tomorrow for Part II, and my other five mistakes.